April 22, 2012

Around the World in 52 Suburbs: Istanbul

Hoş geldiniz! Welcome to Istanbul. A sprawling metropolis of 13-plus million and the only city in the world to have one Turkish slippered foot in Europe and the other in Asia.

I’d been to Istanbul twice before. But only as a typical tourist, visiting the usual suspects in star-studded Sultanahmet – Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. What was Istanbul like beyond the postcard cliches, I wondered? And so here we are in Istanbul, the third city in 52 Suburbs Around the World. Advertisement: Story continues below

For week one my daughter, Coco, and I headed up the Golden Horn to Balat – and snuck in neighbouring Fener while we were at it. Once upon a time these places thrived, filled with fine mansions and vibrant communities of Greeks and Jews. But the fairytale didn’t last and they’re both now struggling and run-down with many buildings derelict and empty. Yet if you squint hard you can imagine what Fener and Balat might have looked and felt like in their heyday. And despite the dilapidation, I still found so much beauty there, from the colourful bay-fronted houses to the impressive churches and mosques we had virtually to ourselves.

For week two in Istanbul we changed gear and ducked over the Golden Horn to Istanbul’s ‘it’ neighbourhood, Cihangir. This is where you can roll down the hill from a big night out in the entertainment district of Taksim and wake up in your European-style apartment to a ridiculously impressive view, stretching right over the Bosphorus, across to Sultanahmet and down to the Sea of Mamara and beyond. I heard the place is heaving with celebrities but as I wouldn’t know a Turkish celebrity if I fell over one, I can’t verify the rumour.

Visit Louise Hawson's photo gallery & read more on The Sydney Morning Herald: Around the World in 52 Suburbs: Istanbul

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